Nothing to lose. Those words kept ringing inside her mind, taunting her, as Asa strolled away.
Verlaine tried to distract herself and take part in journalism class, but that went about as well as it usually did. “So, we should try to find out what Mrs. Purdhy and Riley have in common. Did Riley come to see her, maybe? You know, talk to an old teacher? This could be some disease she brought home from Brown. And we ought to see if there have been any reports of illnesses there that involve weird black . . . stuff.”
It was like she was sitting in a bell jar, none of her words escaping. Desi Sheremata, who had inexplicably been named editor despite hardly caring about the Lightning Rod site, pulled up a sample home page that was all old photos of Riley Bender from previous years’ annuals. The headline, centered over a picture of Riley in her homecoming crown, said Our Prayers Are With Her. “I was thinking we could have a text box where people write in their good wishes for Riley, you know?”
Everyone else nodded and smiled, like that was a really great plan instead of not journalism at all. Mr. Davis only said, “We’ll want to moderate comments. Even with a tragedy, people will troll.”
Especially with a tragedy. People seemed to get uglier in response to real emotions, at least in Verlaine’s experience. Because nobody ever much noticed when she was hurting unless they wanted to make it worse for her.
Nothing to lose.
Verlaine raised her hand. “What about the investigative piece on the Halloween carnival? We’re still running it, right?”
“Nobody actually got hurt,” Desi huffed. “So it’s kind of old news.”
“It wasn’t even two weeks ago!” Okay, nobody else here knew it had actually been the work of one of hell’s minions, aka Elizabeth Pike, but still, a huge fire in the middle of town had to count as newsworthy if anything did.
Desi folded her arms. “I think you’re more interested in a byline than in what happens to Riley Bender.”
This was pretty massively unfair, given that Verlaine was one of the only people trying to deal with the person actually responsible for hurting Riley—but she couldn’t say that. Even if she did, nobody would listen. Instead she scrunched down in her desk and folded her arms in front of her chest. A few people snickered, but then Mr. Davis got them all talking about which pictures of Riley would be best for the montage.
So much for asking whether they were even going to try to cover the not-quite-an-ax-massacre at town hall. Only in this room did attempted murder not count as news.
A byline? They thought she only cared about a byline? As if anybody would have paid attention to her regardless. Verlaine only wanted people to start thinking about how weird Captive’s Sound actually was, to recognize that all these events were part of a larger, scarier pattern. But Elizabeth’s magic wouldn’t let them see that.
Just like Elizabeth’s magic wouldn’t let them see Verlaine for herself.
Nobody pays any attention to anything I do, no matter how hard I try, no matter how good it is. Even my best friends hardly notice me—and I know they don’t mean it, but it doesn’t matter, because the magic works on them, too. I might as well not even talk. Or show up.
That was usually the point where Verlaine reined herself in. Where she told herself that everything could change, that someday she’d go off to college and people would be nicer. Thinking about college and the better life she could create for herself there was the only way she made it through Rodman High.
But now she knew—it wasn’t true.
Nothing was going to change in college. Nothing was going to change, ever. The magic Elizabeth had worked, the magic that prevented anyone from caring about Verlaine—that was permanent. It would last forever.
No one would ever, ever care about her any more than they did right now, today. She was going to spend the rest of her life on the outside looking in. This horrible, clawing loneliness inside her, the thing she battled every single day . . .
The loneliness was going to win.
Verlaine drew her knees up in her chair and huddled into a ball, right there at her desk, because otherwise she would break down and cry.
Nobody noticed. And she knew nobody would have noticed if she’d cried, either.
Nadia used one of Cole’s purple markers to try to draw the shape again. Last night she’d made notes, but they weren’t quite right. Were the lines on Elizabeth’s shoulders a little more—curved, maybe?
“This tea tastes a little funny.” Her dad squinted down at the cup she’d made for him. “Are you sure this is the same stuff?”
“Absolutely,” she said. Just with a special ingredient added.
She put down the marker and touched the pearl charm on her bracelet. Betrayer’s Snare was another spell she’d never cast before; it could only be used in certain situations, and she wasn’t sure whether the seduction Elizabeth was attempting was even one of them. Tonight was her first chance to cast it—you needed the moon at three-quarters to be sure the spell would take root.
Hopefully, as of tomorrow night, Elizabeth wouldn’t be an issue any longer. But Betrayer’s Snare couldn’t hurt Dad, and Nadia didn’t want to take any chances.
An unkindness returned.
An unwanted message received.
A danger unseen until too late.
Nadia kept her eyes on her father as she pulled up the memories:
Toddler Cole pulling her hair one time too often, shouting at him that he was a little brat, and watching his face crumple.